April 2018 Books

I’m a little sad to say that I haven’t read as many books as I would like this month. Because of my participation in Camp NaNoWriMo, as well as other things going on in real life, I didn’t really have a lot of time or energy to sit down and read.

I did manage to finish one book, which was this one.

23281639The Upside of Stress by Kelly McGonigal

I’ve read one of Kelly McGonigal’s books before, the one about willpower. I knew she had written another book about stress, because I had seen her TED talk a few years back when I was dealing with stress at a new job I had then. Now that I’m dealing with quite a bit of stress again, I thought it would be a good idea to read her book on it.

And it was!

This book isn’t really about how to manage stress, but more about changing your mindset towards stress so that you can actually use it to your benefit. There are lots of scientific studies that backed up her claims and her suggestions. And the storytelling style of the book makes it very easy to read. I think this was a good book to break up my reading slump. I haven’t been able to finish any fiction book lately, and I think it was because I just needed a break from fiction.

I was thinking of talking about Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, which I began at the start of April. I managed to get about 60% of the way through the book before my copy expired. I put it on hold again, and I think I’ll wait until I have finished the entire book before I talk about it.

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Camp NaNoWriMo 2018: Final Update

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Well, this is it for April! I’m officially finished with Camp NaNoWriMo. Although my target word count was 50,000, I already finished my 2nd draft at a little more than 46K, so I bumped down my target word count to 45K just so I can say I won, hehe. I wouldn’t totally consider it cheating since finishing of my second draft was my ultimate goal.

What happens now?

Well, to my absolute horror, as I began to write the climax at the beginning of this week, I started to realize that I don’t actually want my story to have this particular ending anymore. It’s a little startling to realize that, because even before I began writing the first draft, I’ve had the idea for this ending already. And no matter how many revisions the plot line went through, the ending always remained more or less the same. I think that’s where the pitfall came. The ending I’d envisioned still belonged to the sprawling, epic story I started with at the outset. And it wasn’t something I caught until I wrote it out, because in the outline, it seemed fine. It was only when I was arranging the scenes together did I realize that I kept veering away from my main characters while they’re supposed to be cresting their character arcs. I really want their arcs to be the focal point in the climax.

The upside to this is that I’m not too sad about it. I’m actually looking forward to thinning down the ending. I think it will make for a more organized and streamlined plot overall. However, it also means that I will probably have to rewrite the story all over again. There will still be some reusable scenes from draft 2, but not much. That said, I think that draft 2 really helped clarify the direction of the story for me, and when I plan my next draft, I know the things that I need to strengthen.

Well, that’s a wrap!

I will be taking a two month break: in May and June, I will be focusing on completing my Schoolism Pictorial Composition course, and perhaps brainstorming the changes for draft 3. Then in July, there will be another Camp NaNoWriMo, which I will use to jump start my next draft. If I can keep up the momentum, I’m hoping to extend the NaNo experience into August to complete the story. And after a bit of polishing and editing, perhaps I won’t be too embarrassed to start sharing my story to beta readers and editors by the time autumn rolls in.

Man, time moves so quickly, doesn’t it? 2018 is already one third over!

Camp NaNoWriMo 2018: Week 3 Update

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It definitely seems like I’ve been nothing but consistent during Camp NaNoWriMo this month. I’m on track to finishing my second draft. I only have two chapters left and an epilogue to write in the final 8 days of the month. (Though one of the chapters is going to be extremely long). I’m actually surprised that I didn’t regress too much, especially because at the beginning of this week, I had an issue with a package I bought that prevented me from writing more than a hundred words.

I keep reminding myself this is something to be proud of even as I look at my second draft as a whole, and feel the staggering amount of work I have to do for the third draft. Moreover, April has just been a weird, stressful month for me, so the fact that I can churn out a steady stream of words is something to be happy about.

There has been quite a few stressors in my life lately. I’m taking driving lessons again, aiming to get my license in May. For those who have known me for some time, you probably know I’ve failed my G2 road test twice now. I am under a lot of pressure during my refresher classes. Also, the project I’m doing at work is in a weird state right now. My partner for the project went on a short-term disability leave, and we haven’t been able to find a replacement who can help me. It’s really looking like I’m the only developer who would see this to the end. (Though one guy said he’d help me when he has time from his two other projects. I really appreciate his help.) The project manager role also switched between two people late last month, and we’re still trying to organize the release plan.

Because of the anxiety that these two things are causing me, I find very little enjoyment even in the things I used to enjoy. I dread the days when I have driving practice even though it only takes up an hour of my time. I don’t know why I get so worked up about it. I also don’t feel like reading when I’m on my commute to work, because I just feel lethargic about the project I’m working on. Every book I tried reading on the train these last few weeks have bounced on me, which is sad, because I did look forward to reading some of the ones I picked up.

Anyway,  I don’t want to be such a Debbie Downer. I do wonder how much of my anxiety is caused by me worrying too much. I want to have a positive outlook, and hopefully that would help me get my energy back. I’d really like to be the kind of developer who can face setbacks on a project, and somehow manage to turn it back around and make it successful. I’d also like to be the kind of developer who can drive. Hehe, yeah. It would make my life so much easier if I can just drive to work.

Camp NaNoWriMo 2018: Week 2 Update

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It’s day 15, and I’ve churned out 30,698 words so far. That’s more than half of my 50,000 goal, so I’m very happy with my progress. As it stands, I only have 5 more chapters to go before the story finishes. I’m at the last leg of my story and these five chapters are going to cover the climax, and are going to be a bit longer than my average chapter.

At this point, I’m really starting to feel the solitary aspect of writing. I always knew how much of a singular endeavour writing is. I choose to do NaNoWriMo and its Camp versions because they really give me the push to just sit down and churn out some words, advance my story one day at a time, until I get to the point where it’s finished. But at the same time, the discipline of writing every day leaves me with very little time and energy for anything else. Even now on a Sunday, when I’ve already reached my writing target and I still have the rest of the afternoon ahead of me, I just don’t have the energy to work on anything else. This means that I pretty much neglect my social media and fandom life. I didn’t even get to participate in last week’s Queen’s Thief Appreciation Week. And because I felt so sulky about not being able to participate, I stayed away from the fandom. I know, I know, it was a little petty.

But anyway, I have 15 more days to go, and after that I can get back to the more social aspect of creativity. That said, I’m still not sure if I’m going to be as active in the Queen’s Thief fandom. I think that I’ll be producing more artwork for my story to help get word around. I also need to work through my Schoolism course. I keep forgetting that I did pay a subscription for it after all. It expires in December, but I sincerely hope I’ve worked through Pictorial Composition by then, and taken a few other courses.

Camp NaNoWriMo 2018: Week 1 Update

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Aaand folks, it’s day 8, and I’m just a few hundred words shy of 20,000 words! Okay, I have to admit I cheated a little bit. I started continuing my story a little bit before April 1, but I included the word counts I gathered in those days. I figure I’d need as much buffer as I can because some days I might not reach my target word count. (Like the past Friday for instance.)

My only goal for this Camp’s NaNoWriMo is to just finish off draft 2. That’s really what I want to achieve. Every time I sit down and write, I tell myself, “Keep the plot going.” Right now, I don’t even care whether the words are pretty or engaging, if the characters are compelling, if I’m telling rather than showing; I just want the plot down, so I at least have some material to work with for the next draft — I don’t want to do a complete rewrite again (I mean, it’s looking like I need to rewrite a significant portion, but I also want draft 2 to be more usable than draft 1 was). I also find the actual process of writing to reveal plot holes and inconsistencies, so it’s better if I manage to write this all out to catch problems earlier on.

Anyway, I’ve been planning to bring this up for a while now, but I figured it was too short of a thing to talk about, so I’ll just include it in this post.

What is a draft?

For other authors out there, what do you consider a draft to be? Is it just one written version of the story from start to finish? Do you consider unfinished versions a draft?

Since I’m a slow writer, I get ideas or fixes for issues in my story faster than I can write a single version of the story. And I don’t want to waste my time writing an outdated idea, so what I do is continue with the story as if the ideas I just had were planned all along. So for example, when I continued writing again last week, I added a mark where I left off in January, saying, “Xiehun is no longer a character.”

This happened in draft 1 too, by the way. About halfway through the story, I changed some very fundamental things about my protagonist. So what I have on my hands really seems to be drafts of different stories that just happen to morph steadily into one another. Is this normal? Do I actually have 2 drafts or more?

 

I’m Thinking of Going Indie

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So Camp NaNoWriMo has begun! I’ve been writing the past three days to gear up for the month (and to give me buffer for the days when I fall below my target). I figure it’s a good time to talk about the direction of my writing process, because while I’m still working on my 2nd draft, I do wonder about the fate of my story.

Before I say anything else, I’d like to establish that I’m still not sure about this decision, but that the more I think about it, the more I like the idea of going independent. I am still not very familiar with the publishing process, so I can’t say for certain whether the independent route is definitely better than the traditional one, but there are a few reasons why going indie is becoming more and more attractive to me.Read More »

March 2017 Books

I’m still a little behind in my reading challenge, but I think I did better this month than I did in February. So let’s get right into it!

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The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

Lucy is one of the three members of a ghost-hunting company called Lockwood and co. One day, they are asked to resolve a haunting, and Lucy unwittingly takes the Source of the ghost. But the mission turns sour and it leads their company into near ruin. They decide to solve the mystery of the ghost to attract more customers. But when a too-good-to-be-true offer comes their way, is it really the opportunity they’re waiting for or someone who has a different agenda?

Let me tell you, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The premise of ghost-busting isn’t particularly original, and the plot was quite predictable at times. However, the twist of having only children sense ghosts was part of the reason Lockwood and co. was such an entertaining group to read about. The characters were fun, empathetic, and flawed. Lucy’s narration was so smooth. It’s one of those writing styles that just really suck you into the story. The worldbuilding was clever; actually what I really love about it is that it took a common concept and just gave it a little twist, and I was really excited to see what the story will do with it.

For most of the book, one of the things I really enjoyed is the way Lucy was never considered inferior to her peers because she’s a girl. It really seemed as if everyone just had this expectation that when it comes to ghost-hunting, girls and boys were equally skilled, and nobody expected otherwise. But this sadly got subverted near the end of the book, where even Lucy was forced to admit that as a girl, she’s more sensitive. I just didn’t think this was very fair for her.

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The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

So, we’ve all heard the likes of Delilah Bard, women who dress up in men gear. Sometimes it’s because they require the disguise to be safe, but other times simply because it suits them.

Well let me introduce you to Prince Sebastian, a prince who sometimes like to wear dresses. When I saw Shannon Hale recommend this on her Twitter, at first I was intrigued! Then I saw the summary on Goodreads, and I was like… “Oh, huh.”

The last time I encountered a male character who wears dresses was when I watched Fushigi Yuugi. Nuriko was one of the most compelling anime characters I’ve seen to this day. I mean, look at him! His death was one of the most painful character deaths I have ever endured. (Spoiler alert for those who haven’t seen Fushigi Yuugi… but I suppose it’s a little late now.)

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I don’t usually read graphic novels (the last time I read manga was in 2014). But I got in this one really easily. The characters were cute and expressive. I really like the way Frances and Sebastian’s friendship evolved, and the eventual romance they cultivated. I also like how the conflict evolved naturally from their personal and interpersonal goals. I’m pretty sure I’m adding this to my list of comfort books.

Currently Reading

Yes, I’m still making my way steadily through The Way of Kings. It’s taking a long time. I feel bummed about it. I usually devour a Sanderson book.

Ahhh, I’ve been waiting for Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi for about a year now. I’m so excited to be reading it.

Finally, in keeping with my non-fictional historical interests, I’ve picked up Lisa Lowe’s The Intimacies of Four Continents. It’s a bit dense, but I do think it provides a different perspective of the many things we’ve come to associate about colonial period.

Streamlining My Story By Controlling Character Knowledge

If you’ve been following my blog for some time now, no doubt you’ve come across one of my many Writing Woes posts. Most of the time, these posts deal with my angst about having to refactor my story, because as I write the outlines for the drafts, or the drafts themselves, I keep finding that my story is too complex. When I say complexity, I don’t necessarily mean the substance or message of the story, or even the style and vocabulary I use. Instead, what I mean is the layers and elements interwoven in the story.

It’s not easy to remove an element or a thread from a story, especially if, like me, you love big, epic things and you tend to plan or outline before writing. Removing an element could unravel other foundational threads, and then you find yourself with all kinds of plot holes that cannot be plugged no matter how much you try. After finishing another streamlining last night after weeks of reviewing my story again, I realized that I’ve been using the same revamping technique to tame the wild mess I’ve planned:

When I want to discard a thread from my story, I make the outcome of that thread already well-known to the characters.

See, the threads in my story add some layer of mystery that the protagonists have to grapple with. It’s another stumbling block that stops them from reaching their goals, but once that thread is resolved, the characters would have gained something. At least, if the thread is at all useful, that’s what is supposed to happen. Of course, you could have a thread that doesn’t really add any value to your characters’ arc, but if that’s the case, then there should be no trouble removing it at all. (Or even having it there in the first place.)

I’ll give an example from my story. I suppose it’s a bit of a spoiler, but well… not really anymore. In one of my more recent refactoring, I axed a character named Xiehun who was supposed to be investigating the death of his father. Now, he was relevant to one of the protagonists, Anina, because the person who betrayed his father also betrayed her. And that’s important because once Anina finds out who betrayed her, then the investigation would be resolved.

Anyway, since there’s already so many things going on in my story, I didn’t have time to elaborate on the investigation of his father’s death. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even have much time to allot to Xiehun at all, except for moments in the story where he reminds everyone about the mystery of his father’s death. Which… is not a compelling use of character, to be honest. So I needed to remove him.

But then that leaves the mystery of Anina’s betrayal dangling. So when I removed Xiehun, I removed the mystery of his father’s death too. Instead of murder, I made it an accident, and I made it common knowledge in the story. And thus, I’ve disentangled Anina and Xiehun’s threads.

I find that when something becomes common knowledge among the characters, then you save the time you would spend writing how they acquire this knowledge. I used this tactic many times. When everyone was trying to figure out how to neutralize a really dangerous magical McGuffin, it added another layer to the story. But when I made that solution well-known (or at least known to 1 character), the only thing I have to worry about is how to get the characters to that point. When some mysterious thing that happened in the past came cropping up, it blindsided the characters. The characters would have to deal with processing this, so I have to write them connecting the dots. But if it’s already in their repertoire of knowledge, their reaction would be completely different, perhaps tamer and better prepared to confront the situation.

In hindsight, I think the reverse was how I ended up with such a convoluted story in the first place. I wanted a lot of plot twists and big surprises, so I made my characters really clueless. Everything was stacked up against them; every time they turned a corner, there’s something waiting to surprise them. So I suppose if you want to make your story more complex and layered, just make your characters not know about a particular thing.

I don’t know if this is something most writers already know. I definitely didn’t until I started doing so many refactors and streamlining sessions, and I realized I was performing the same technique to slim my story down. So there you go. Did you already know about this? What other things do you do when your try to simplify your story?

February 2018 Art

In my last update about my Schoolism subscription, I mentioned that I switched momentarily from the Pictorial Composition course to take a lighting course. I’ve been watching Sam Nielson’s Fundamentals of Lighting, because I think I lack even the most basic grasp of light and colour. That said, I still proceeded with the 2nd assignment for Pictorial Composition, just so I don’t lag too much behind. Here’s some of my compositions:Read More »